Not All Vegans are Weird: 7 (More) Healthy Eating Tips

If you liked last week’s round up of plant-based diet tips, then you know not all vegans are weird :). In week 2 of INTENT 365, we’re continuing to get In-shape with a whole, plant-based, chemical-free diet. With all the preconceived ideas about vegans, this may be a tough transition for many of us. So here are 7 more tips to pave our personal plant-based paths (and do some good for the planet, too). 

wellbeing tip #8 vegans wake up to a plant-based breakie

Tip #8: Wake up to a plant-based breakfast

One way to make a big change is to do it in small bites (so to speak). This might mean targeting just one meal a day. Breakfast is the easiest meal to make meatless since many common options are plant-based already. Others are easy to modify. Try steel cut oats & blueberries, cereal in alternative milk, toast with peanut butter or the trendier version with avocado.

Most mornings, I make super smoothies—a detox habit I kept up after my family gave me a powerful blender for my birthday. I blend berries, kale from my garden, soymilk, chia, cacao, stevia, and instead of protein powder (which comes in a ridiculously large plastic container), I now use a whole-food option: black beans. Some of you may be thinking, “Yuck!” But with the stevia and other flavors, this smoothie is super yummy.

While we’re talking about breakfast, you might make sure it’s high in protein. Doing so will ensure that you feel satisfied till lunchtime, and it helps regulate emotions, too. (mornings can be stressful, especially with family members “distance learning” and “working from home” under the same roof). 

If nothing else, eat a plant-based breakfast and feel good about starting the day off right.

wellbeing tip #9 celebrate meatless Monday with vegans and non-vegans

Tip #9: Celebrate Meatless Monday

If diving headlong into a totally plant-based diet seems too extreme, start out with one day a week: Meatless Monday.  Full disclosure: my family members are not vegans. We follow a Mediterranean diet, including fish, poultry, dairy, and eggs. But we continually modify the food we eat, so the changes feel comfortable and right. We started out our day-based menu planning with Fish on Friday—a carry over from my husband’s Catholic upbringing. Meatless Monday thus appealed to my appreciation for routine. 

Meatless Monday is actually a global movement with a simple message: “One day a week, cut the meat.” The organization, founded in 2003 by Sid Lerner in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is now active in over 40 countries and 20 languages. While a new partnership with the National Kidney Foundation highlights Meatless Monday’s concern for human health, environmental health holds equal weight.A Meatless Monday blogger explains, “If all — or most — typical eaters reduced their meat and dairy intake by swapping a few servings a week for plant-based protein foods with low carbon footprints we could have a large collective impact.”

wellbeing tip #10 get inspired by vegans recipes

Tip #10: Get inspired by vegan recipes

If you were at a loss as to what to make for Meatless Monday, it sounds like you might need some inspiration. You can certainly search for plant-based recipes online, but you might find more by searching for vegan ones. In my understanding, the difference is that vegans are more political and focus more on animal rights. But the diet is the same. I have a handful of go-to bloggers who post vegan recipes that suit my tastes, time, and talents (or lack of) in the kitchen. If you take some time on a Sunday to explore, I’m sure you’ll find some, too.

It’s also fun to look through cookbooks. My daughter gave me “Oh She Glows Dinner” cookbook for Christmas, and we’ve tabbed countless pages to try. Or visit your local public library: I just checked out the “How Not to Diet” cookbook by Dr. Michael Greger (author of the well-referenced best-seller How Not to Die, which details the benefits of a plant-based diet). Cookbooks have so much information on ingredients, cooking techniques, must-have pantry items, nutrition facts, and staple suggestions (like how to make spice blends and sauces, for example). I’ve honestly learned tons about plant-based cooking by reading cookbooks by vegans.

Do you have favorite recipes, food blogs, or cookbooks? Inspire us!

wellbeing tip #11 stock up on energizing food for vegans

Tip #11: Stock up on energizing food

With COVID-19, we know all about stocking up on food! Now we just have to make sure it’s energizing, plant-based food that boosts our wellbeing. I’m talking both staples and snacks.

  • Staples – When I shop, I have a running list of staples in my head: canned and dried beans, dates, frozen blueberries, diced tomatoes, quinoa, and so on. Bonus tip: Costco—everyone’s favorite place to stock up—now has plenty of organic products to choose from. While you’re at it, don’t forget the emergency kit! We keep a 4-day protein-rich food supply for the whole family, including the dog. With the staples stocked, I’m ready for anything.
  • Snacks – Anyone with kids knows that good snacks can be a life saver. The mom in me suggests fruit/veg with protein (like green apples with peanut butter). The kid wants carbs or a sweet treat (the actual kid and the kid in me). To satisfy both, I stock relatively healthy carbs like popcorn kernels as well as stuff to make our favorite sweet but satisfying plant-based snacks: blueberry muffins, trail mix, and chocolate breakfast cookies (we call them “cow plops” because calling them cookies is a set-up for disappointment). 

Pro tip for vegans and non-vegans alike: also keep in mind what NOT to stock. If it’s not in the house, you can’t eat it!

wellbeing tip #12 find vegans substitutes for foods you love

Tip #12: Find substitutes for food you love

It’ll be easier to stick to a plant-based diet if we focus on what we CAN have rather than what we can’t. Still, there may be some animal-based foods that we’d miss too much to go without–even vegans. Personally, I miss burgers, feta, and parmesan, so I need to find substitutes. 

Admittedly, I’m not a big fan of “meat substitutes” or other processed food for vegans. I have this sense (though I could be wrong) that some products have questionable ingredients and/or break the “no more than 5 ingredients” rule. Plus, in general, I just prefer my food to be whole so I know where it came from. 

So our choices are to investigate store-bought alternatives or make our own. I’ve made delicious veggie burgers, but I’ve also found frozen ones we all like (not as good, but awesome when you don’t have time to mess around in the kitchen).  And I have found promising recipes for vegan feta and parmesan that I have yet to try. Of course, the taste won’t be quite the same, but it’ll approximate the experience. And that’s what is missed most of all.

wellbeing tip #13 source vitamins and minerals naturally

Tip #13: Source vitamins and minerals naturally

The health food industry pushes plenty of must-have supplements that aren’t truly necessary for physical and mental wellbeing, even for those who follow a plant-based diet. The average person is likely get all the vitamins and minerals needed from eating a wide variety of fruit & veg, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds every day. 

There is a caveat for some folks: Philip J Tuso, MD (Regional Co-Lead for the Complete Care Program of the Southern California Permanente Medical Group) and his colleagues recommend careful planning or supplements for populations at risk for deficiencies in Vitamin B12, Calcium, Vitamin D, and Omega-3 fatty acids (see the full study and recommendations in “Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets”).

But for those of us not at risk, we can source our vitamins and minerals naturally from whole foods. It’s beyond the scope of this forum to lay out all the ways to do that (like getting iron from dark leafy greens paired with Vitamin C rich foods like tomatoes), so consult a nutritional expert for the best advice.

wellbeing tip #14 don't assume vegans food is healthy

Tip #14: Don’t assume vegan/organic food is healthy

It’s easy to assume that food labeled vegan or organic is healthy, but that’s not always the case. Three concerns come immediately to mind:

  1. If it’s pre-packaged, processed food, it is less likely to be whole, it may contain questionable or potentially harmful ingredients, or it may violate the “no-more-than-5-ingredients” recommendation.
  2. You may not be getting the quality you think you are getting if the product is coming from a large mainstream corporation, which by law must prioritize shareholder profits over the health of people and the planet. This is especially true of organic products, which may only fulfill the bare minimum of the certification and cut corners in other ways.
  3. Sugar is still a significant part of our industrialized diet that adversely affects our health, even in many organic and vegan processed food products. Organic cane sugar is still high on the glycemic index, for example, it’s still not good for those watching their sugar intake (which should include not only diabetics but all of us).

With so many decisions to make, it’s easy to just grab the thing labeled organic or vegan and be done with it. But maybe when you get home and have a little more time to think, you can decide whether you want to buy that item again.

Next week…

Next week we’ll continue to improve our chances of adopting a whole, plant-based, chemical-free diet with tips that aim to improve not only our own wellbeing but also the wellbeing of those we care for and those who care for us (including bees!).

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